Where Nature's God Hath Wrought

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Where Nature's God Hath Wrought

United States, 1925
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 50 1/16 × 60 1/16 in. (127.16 × 152.56 cm) Frame: 57 1/2 × 67 1/4 × 3 in. (146.05 × 170.82 × 7.62 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Collection (25.19.1)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

This painting regularly has been referred to as Wendt’s masterpiece since first being called that in the book published in conjunction with the Stendahl Art Galleries’ 1926 exhibition of Wendt’s work....
This painting regularly has been referred to as Wendt’s masterpiece since first being called that in the book published in conjunction with the Stendahl Art Galleries’ 1926 exhibition of Wendt’s work. In many respects it is entirely characteristic of Wendt’s mature paintings: in its subject being the California foothills, its restrained palette, its noon light, its broad, long, regular brushstrokes, and its simplification of forms. Wendt’s approach to composition was to find a motif and let it dictate the structure of the composition. His paintings generally give the impression of an intimate encounter with a modest portion of a landscape and are not formally composed. Where Nature’s God Hath Wrought, in contrast, is an extremely bold and powerful composition, at once dramatic and unified. Wendt always sought the spirit of the landscape and its deeper meaning; the title of this painting is his strongest statement of that philosophy. Many have remarked on the inspirational quality of the mountain’s upward thrust. According to critic Arthur Millier, the view is of Morro Bay, north of San Luis Obispo in central California, where Wendt occasionally worked in the 1920s. As Millier noted, the bay’s distinctive soaring hill formations afforded Wendt a "supreme opportunity to express his profound feeling for the structural balance." The last digit of the date Wendt inscribed on the canvas is ambiguous. In recent literature the date given has been 1923, but exhibition and literature references suggest that the artist painted Where Nature’s God Hath Wrought in 1925 or shortly before. The first record of the painting is its inclusion in the Los Angeles Museum’s First Pan-American Exhibition of Oil Paintings of 1925-26. It is doubtful that Wendt would have contributed a painting several years old to such a significant exhibition. Furthermore, the fact that the canvas is unusually large for Wendt might be explained by its function as a major showpiece. The painting shared, with the modernist Parthenope by JOHN CARROLL (LACMA; q.v.), the Balch Prize in the Pan-American Exhibition, achieving for the artist considerable local distinction. It was the one exception to the awards jury’s preference for progressive styles. This may be explained, in part, by a deference to Wendt’s preeminence among Los Angeles artists. At the same time, however, the painting’s breadth and simplified, somewhat geometric forms would have appealed to the taste of the jurors.
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About The Era

The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture....
The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture. Great riches were amassed by railroad tycoons and land barons, and along with this came the desire for a luxurious standard of living. Collectors filled their homes with European as well as American works of art. American artists, generally trained abroad, often painted in styles that were indistinguishable from their European counterparts.
Most Americans who studied abroad did so in the European academies, which promoted uplifting subject matter and a representational style that emphasized well-modeled, clearly defined forms and realistic color. Academic painting served American artists well, for their clients demanded elaborate large-scale paintings to demonstrate their wealth and social positions. With an emphasis on material objects and textures, academic artists immortalized their patrons’ importance in full-length portraits.
Academic painting dominated taste in Europe throughout the century. But in the 1860s impressionism emerged in France as a reaction to this hegemony. By the 1880s this “new painting” was still considered progressive. Mary Cassatt was the only American invited to participate in the revolutionary Paris impressionist exhibitions. Despite her participation and the early interest of several other American painters, few Americans explored impressionism until the 1890s. Impressionist painters no longer had to choose subject matter of an elevated character but instead could depict everyday scenes and incidents. Nor did impressionists have to record the physical world with the objective detail of a photograph. Artists were now encouraged to leave their studios and paint outside under different weather conditions. American impressionists used the new aesthetic to capture the charm and beauty of the countryside and the city as well as the quiet delicacy of domestic interiors.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • About the Era.
  • Kim, Woollin, Jinmyung Kim, and Songhyuk Yang, eds. Art Across America. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2013.
  • Miller, Angela, and Chris McAuliffe, eds. America: Painting a Nation. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.
  • Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. Painting and Sculpture in Los Angeles, 1900-1945. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Barron, Stephanie, S. Bernstein and I. S. Fort, with essays by Stephanie Barron, Sherri Bernstein, M. Dear, Howard N. Fox and Richard Rodriguez.  Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Berkeley:  University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000.

    View this publication in LACMA's Reading Room

  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
  • South, Will, Jean Stern, and Janet Blake. In Nature's Temple: the Life and Art of William Wendt. Irvine: The Irvine Museum, 2008.

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